Sennheiser is a veteran audio brand that’s created some of the best headphones and best wireless earbuds, but when it comes to customizing the fit of its in-ear buds, the most it can currently do is provide a few different tip sizes in the box.
That could change in the near future, as Sennheiser’s Ambeo division has partnered up with 3D printing company Formlabs to print custom-fitting earbud tips. So if you're struggling to get a comfortable fit with the likes of the AirPods Pro, custom earbuds could be for you, potentially at an affordable price.
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The plan is for buyers to create a scan of their ears using their phone’s camera, then send the scans to Sennheiser. It will then use the Form 3B, an industrial-grade 3D printer “optimized for biocompatible materials,” to print a set of ear tips that perfectly fits that person’s ears.
It’s already possible to have bespoke custom earbuds made, but it’s an expensive luxury, and far from wider-spread. And, while some headphone manufacturers have tried “moldable earbuds” using a pliable material that can shape itself to your ears, these still often don’t have the precise fit of a measured, completely custom design.
The solution to both, Sennheiser hopes, is 3D printing. This can produce genuinely custom-fitting tips on a larger scale than traditional manufacturing techniques, which in turn could make them cheaper for the consumer.
Formlabs, which also produces plug-and-play 3D printers like the Form 3, recognizes the potential for making custom headphones more easily available.
“Our technology collaboration with Sennheiser seeks to change the way customers interact with the brands they love by enabling a more customized, user-centric approach to product development,” said Formlabs audio head Iain McLeod.
“Formlabs’ deep industry knowledge and broad expertise in developing scalable solutions enable us to deliver tangible innovations to our customers. In this case, we are working with Sennheiser’s Ambeo team to deliver a uniquely accessible, custom fit experience.”
However, the tips themselves are still in the prototyping stage, so we don’t know when they might become available — or, crucially, how much it will cost to get a custom pair printed. Sennheiser will need to be careful with this as although it will naturally be more expensive than using bundled, mass-produced eartips, it should probably be significantly cheaper than current bespoke options.
Plans for 3D printed earbud parts would also likely be caught up in Sennheiser selling its consumer business, which would involve a partner taking joint control of its headphones and soundbar products.